St. Mary’s Visitation Parish School in Elm Grove hosted an outdoor caroling event in their parking on Dec. 17. (Photo by Juan Carlos Medina)

St. Mary’s Visitation Parish School in Elm Grove may not be able to hold their annual Christmas concert this year, but that didn’t stop students, staff and parents from bringing the light of Christ into the darkness of an Advent night with song, candles and a healthy dose of Christmas cheer.

The school community gathered in their parking lot on the evening of Thursday, Dec. 17, for a unique outdoor caroling event planned by the Home and School Association. Families gathered in socially distanced clusters by their cars, holding candles and singing along to seasonal favorites like “O Holy Night” and “Angels We Have Heard on High.”

The music was pre-recorded by SMV students and families at home, then submitted to Home and School co-president Katie Carnell, who compiled the recordings into a full-length concert that was broadcast to the radios of all the cars in the lot. Organizers also created programs with lyric sheets to allow the families to sing along.

SMV middle school students were tasked with researching the composer and history of each song in the program, and recorded a short intro that ran before it was performed.

The caroling event was the suggestion of school parent Danielle Ticcioni in response to Home and School Association post on the SMV parent Facebook page soliciting ideas for Christmas events to bring families together in a safe way to celebrate their Advent theme of “Keeping Christ in Christmas.”

“This whole year we’ve been trying to find ways to engage with the school community in a way that is safe and a way that’s allowed,” said Carnell. “Obviously, we can’t have a Christmas program this year because parents can’t come into the building.”

As the event began to take shape, organizers asked students and families to pre-record their performances.

“We started to brainstorm — oh, that kid plays electric guitar, that kid plays piano, that kid’s a really good singer — and we put out a Facebook post: whose kids want to be a part of this?” said Carnell. “The parents whose kids are shy love it because their kid will record for an iPhone. They’re just doing a voice memo or something similar and they’re emailing it to me. For kids who don’t want to go in front of big groups, this is a really great option.”

Planning hit a snag when they had to tackle the logistics of how to transmit the audio to the attendees’ cars. After considering a sound system or a DJ, Carnell saw a post in the Milwaukee Catholic Mamas Facebook group from a mom at Holy Family School in Whitefish Bay, which hosted a drive-in movie fundraiser that transmitted audio over a radio frequency. That mom put Carnell in touch with Steve Mocco at FunFlicks, a Green Bay-based company that coordinates outdoor movies. With Mocco’s help, the Home and School Association was able to set up “WSMV 90.5” for the night, which broadcast the music as far as the parish parking lot perimeter.

SMV Principal Mary Tretow said this caroling concert was just another example of how school parents have managed to maintain a strong community feel even in these times of social distancing.

“They have just rallied around myself and our teachers,” she said. From keeping school fridges stocked with soda, treats and boxed lunches for the teachers, to sending assurances of prayer and messages of encouragement to staff members, “they know how hard we’re working to keep the school open.”

But for a tightly knit community like SMV, it’s tough when the actual school building itself has to be closed to outside visitors, which made events like the caroling concert more important.

“It’s hard not to have our families in our building because they’re a big part of who we are and what we do, and to have to shut down the building is really hard. They can’t be here to help us in our classrooms and the library, and to help with parties. But to know that they’re on the outside supporting us makes a big difference,” Tretow said. “People are craving that sense of being together. This was such a phenomenal event for our parents to know that we can come together in the true spirit of Christmas.”

A photo gallery of images from the event can be viewed at